Look, I’ll admit it straight up, I’ve never been much of a fan of the Keto diet. Any set of rules for monitoring and controlling what you eat tend to repel me completely – especially if it involves cutting out a major food group such as carbs almost entirely. Plus, as I’m a vegetarian, the Keto diet’s focus on consuming seemingly impossible portions of protein every single day is incredibly difficult to follow unless you’re trying the Eco-Keto version of the weight loss plan.
However, if I thought I was perhaps unsure about the Keto diet before, my recent experience hiking in the mountains put me off entirely.
I have read a great deal about the Keto diet. One of last year’s trendiest diets, the low carb, high fat eating plan showed no sign of slowing down in popularity this year and it’s in the media and on social media constantly. I’ve also spoken to dieticians, nutritionists and doctors about it – whose thoughts on the diet were mixed and cautionary – and despite that even given it a go once myself.
The celeb-endorsed, ultra-low carb diet appears to work really well for some people, producing amazing weight loss results (which is fantastic for them if they’ve found a diet which works for their lifestyle), but after spending six weeks trekking in Nepal, I now know I will never try the Keto diet ever again.
Reliant on the food which was on offer in mountain lodges (or ‘teahouses’ as they are called in Nepal) along the trekking trail, and being hundreds of miles away from shops, restaurants or cooking facilities, it began to prove pretty difficult to control my own diet on the trip. At the end of a day hiking 25km up the side of a mountain you’re just hungry and will eat what you’re given – even if that is a portion of rice the size of a dinner plate or yet another dish of fairly plain spaghetti.
At first, the lack of control over my food choices, as well as the amount of carbs on my plate for every meal, worried me.
Although I’m not the strictest with my diet and I’m susceptible to more than the odd slip up with unhealthy snacks or sugary treats, suddenly having little to no control over what I could choose to eat made me realise how much I was carefully considering what I ate on a normal day.
Always picking the healthiest option where possible, or feeling totally horrible about myself at the end of a day if I’d treated myself to something unhealthy, I realised that in my day to day life I let my diet choices rule my emotions and this was made even more extreme if I was trying to stick to a tricky to maintain, restrictive diet like Keto.
But up in the mountains, trekking long distances each day in sometimes harsh conditions and always relying on local hospitality and cooking to stay fed and fuelled, this was no longer the case.
I was no longer judging myself for how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ I was with my food choices at the end of each day, instead replacing feelings of guilt with more practical reflections on my meals – had I had enough energy for the day? Did I feel full and nourished? Was the portion size enough to keep me going and feeling strong?
It struck me that this approach to eating and fuelling your body should not only apply on days when there was a physical challenge ahead, but every single day.
Restrictive diets like Keto might produce quick and sometimes impressive weight loss results, but sometimes that success is short lived and maintaining a diet long term that cuts out carbs or another food group completely is not only difficult but can actually be bad for your physical and mental health.
Melbourne-based dietitian Joel Feren describes the Keto diet as a, “shortsighted and misguided approach to improving health” and advises that the best ‘diet’ is the one that is “most sustainable” and doesn’t involve, “shunning nutritious foods like whole grains, legumes and fruit.” Whereas PT and nutrition coach Graeme Tomlinson went as far recently as to describe Keto as, “the most misleading diet out there.”
Spending six weeks in the mountains taught me that not only do I need carbs in my life to keep me going, fuel my body and give me energy, but I’m also a lot happier if I’m not constantly concerned with what food groups I can and cannot eat for every single meal.
So while it might still be the trendy go-to weight loss solution for celebs and ordinary dieters alike, the only thing I’ll be cutting out of my life day to day from now on, is Keto.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not meant as advice.
Before considering any diet make sure you consult a healthcare professional.